Leading a Simple, Moral Life - A Spiritual Primer

Leading a Simple, Moral Life

The way we conduct our lives has direct impact on the development of our spiritual nature. All spiritual teachers tell us that sound moral conduct is the very foundation of a spiritual life.

The saints’ teachings on ethics are based on their knowledge of which actions are beneficial and which are harmful for spiritual development. Saints are not concerned with morality only for the sake of morality. Their concern is to help us understand the law of action and reaction that governs the world. They want to lead us away from traps and illusions. They know that in our obsession with pleasure we look for happiness in places where we can only become frustrated, unhappy and attached. The moral guidelines the saints give are to prevent us from falling into the dangerous cycle of actions and reactions that binds us to the creation.

The question of sex

The mystics advise people to regulate sexuality because it pulls the attention downwards into the body. If we are to grow in spirituality, our aim should be to raise our attention upwards – to raise our level of consciousness. Anything which draws the attention into the sensual pleasures of the body pulls one down into the world and so serves to keep one more tightly bound to the physical creation.

Stanley White, discussing in his book Liberation of the Soul the moral issues that confront a disciple on the spiritual path, points out that many spiritual teachers are themselves married. He says: “They show us that one can lead the life of a householder yet still practice the mystic path successfully. If we live a sensible, controlled life, we will find that our meditation will slowly detach us from physical needs. Then we will not miss the ‘loss’ of sex, for the mind will have found a superior pleasure (within) and will gladly give up the pleasures associated with sex. Mystics are very practical; they know that we cannot stop indulging in the sensual pleasures the moment we come to the path. They teach that it is a gradual and slow withdrawal. Therefore, they allow us to conservatively satisfy bodily needs until we reach the state where the need is overcome through attachment to the spirit within.

“Practically, then, our interest in and need for sex decreases as we make spiritual progress within. A life of celibacy would be impractical for all but a mere handful who have, in fact, transcended this need. Similarly, a forced celibacy would accomplish nothing since the mind would be constantly rebelling, due to repression. So, it is obvious that the prescription given by the saints, namely, living a clean, moral life within the confines of marriage, with an aim toward slow and gradual detachment – by attaching oneself to the power within – is the only logical method whereby the bodily needs can be transcended.”

It is the mind that keeps us from experiencing the spirit. Therefore, most people who want to develop their spiritual understanding try in one way or another to subdue the mind. Some practise various forms of penance or live lives of great austerity. By so doing they hope to detach the mind forcibly from the pleasures of the world. But if we do not give the mind an alternative source of pleasure, if we fail to attach it to some more enjoyable source of bliss, then one day the mind will react. The monk who returns to the world after achieving strict self-discipline may find himself overwhelmed when faced with the temptations of the world. He may lose even the normal self-control that an ordinary man possesses. When the mind is simply bound and tied and forced into submission, then, when freed, it often returns to the pleasures of the body with redoubled strength.

Detachment from sensual pleasures cannot be achieved by repression. Nor, contrary to what some people may think, can we rise above the sensual pleasures by indulging in them. This is like trying to stop a fire by throwing gasoline on it. The mind will only become more active. It will never become satiated through indulging it. Rather, indulgence will increase its desires. Saints suggest a different approach. They advise us to attach the mind to something higher, something that will give much more pleasure than the sensual pleasures – and this higher pleasure is our contact with the Word. The Word is the primordial source of pure and everlasting pleasure. The divine rapture produced by contact with that ceaseless Melody keeps one so entranced within oneself that one never tires of it. In comparison to it, one will find the worldly pleasures insipid and of no interest. Only in this way can one be really detached.

Detachment can never be achieved in a vacuum. Only attachment to something better – to the Word – can produce true detachment from the world.

Less is more

Saints advise us to be honest in our dealings with others and to make our moral code inseparable from our life. They put great importance on the necessity of everyone earning his or her own living, for if we live from the earnings of others, we create another obstacle to our own progress and growth. By being a burden on others we create debts that extend the time we have to spend at this plane of consciousness so they can be repaid.

True spiritual teachers stand before us as examples of honest living. They support themselves without losing their way in the process. They never accept money from their disciples for their own personal use. Their dealings with everyone are sincere and straightforward. They demonstrate from moment to moment that happiness does not lie in wealth and possessions but in contentment of the heart.

In this materialistic age we have somehow bought the idea that we need more of everything to be happy. Little do we realize that when material comforts and security become the most important thing for us, our inner life begins to wither away. By attaching ourselves to money, possessions and things of the world, we strengthen our egos, weaken our inner focus or balance, and, in the process, alienate ourselves from who we are. This is how we lose our peace of mind, and, possessed by our possessions and our ambitions, become anxious and stressed.

Trying always to ignore the stark reality of our own impermanence, our mind deludes itself by keeping busy, trying to amass more wealth, more power or whatever it most enjoys. In this scenario we can all too easily become workaholics, with little time to remember our final end. In reality we are doing little more than the ostrich that hides its head in the ground and thinks no one can see it. Our end has to come one day, no matter where we hide or what we are busy doing.

In our attempts to find happiness in things outside of ourselves, we have increased the complexity of our lives to a point of no return. We have allowed the marketing media to brainwash us, creating artificial necessities. In the process, we have moulded ourselves after the promised heavens of TV commercials and fallen headlong into their enticing traps.

Mass marketing media, the face of human greed, has replaced our spiritual values with material ideals. Consumerism dictates the way we live. Going shopping has become a substitute for religious experience and the malls and shopping complexes have become the new places of worship. We need to keep up with the Joneses and what the media projects to us. Ten credit cards are hardly sufficient. Even if we own a house for winter, another for summer, an apartment on the ocean and a cabin in the woods, we are still not content.

How many shirts can we wear in a day? How many dresses can we parade in during one evening? In how many rooms can we sleep at night? Even if we succeed in obtaining material things that represent the ultimate in status – a customized Rolls, maybe, or a private jet, what will we do if we find that we’re still not happy? Will we be like the dog madly chasing a car till it catches up with it, but then finds that it doesn’t know what to do?

Greed is destructive. Greed blinds a person. It makes people so obsessed with getting their perceived share of the proverbial cake that they are ready to sell their souls for a song. In their short-sighted demands for satisfaction, without realizing it, people often become ruthless. Just consider how we have raped the earth’s resources to satisfy our greed. When convenient, we compromise with principles that we say are important to us. When it suits us, we find justifications for the very actions that we condemn in others.

Greed and the relentless pursuit of self-gratification harden a person’s heart, scatter the mind and waste precious energy, making spiritual development very difficult to achieve.

Rich is the person who has not the most, but who is happy with whatever he or she has. We have raised our standard of living, and sadly lost our sense of contentment. Contentment has become almost a foreign word in today’s vocabulary and yet we have so much more than we really need.

If we take the trouble to think about it, we will realize we don’t need that much. Our necessities are not that many. Life is very simple. It is we who complicate it. The more we possess, the more we are possessed. The less we possess, the less we are possessed.

Maharaj Charan Singh in one of his discourses quoted in Treasure Beyond Measure tells us: “Ask anybody and you will find that he has no time. The labourer has no time; the engineer has no time; the doctor has no time; the industrialist has no time. Who has time to relax? Who has some moments of leisure? No one.

“What then have we gained from all this progress, from all these developments? We cannot find an hour for ourselves, not even half an hour in which to relax. Everybody is suffering from mental tension – every face reflects tension – no one appears to be relaxed. Four people cannot sit together and shake off their tension in laughter and relaxation.

“The result is increasing incidence of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Our entire life has become artificial. We have forgotten how to laugh, and how to shed tears. Our smiles have become artificial, our tears have become artificial.

“This is not entirely the fault of development. We have become prisoners of the things that development and progress have given us. These things were meant for our benefit, for our use; we were not meant for their benefit, for their use. But we have become slaves of the machinery, not its owners. We are possessed by it; we do not possess it. We should become the owners, the masters of all this progress. Every person should get enough food, should have shelter over his head, should be relaxed, should be free from tension. There should be no tension on anyone’s mind.

“Parents should be loving towards their children, and children should have respect for their parents. These are the values which every human being cherishes in life. These are the basic values of life. If the values of life are lost, then what is the advantage of all this development? What is the benefit of all this progress?

“I am not against modern developments and the present civilization. But at no cost should we compromise with the basic values of human life. There should be leisure for us. We should lead a simple, relaxed and tension-free life. There should be unity and peace in the family, respect for our elders, and we should look after our children. Our food and environment should be healthy. We should be sympathetic and helpful to others. Our developments should lead us in this direction.”

If we build our world on the false promises presented to us by the media, we will be swept away by the media’s shallowness and artificiality – all driven by nothing but greed. By throwing away this opportunity to develop ourselves fully, we will also lose our chance to achieve lasting peace of mind and the incomparable happiness and joy that lies within.